The NH Union Leader reports that two Massachusetts men were arrested at a Salem NH motel on charges they induced a 15-year-old girl who had run away from home to act as a prostitute.
Andy Pena, 19, was ordered held on $150,000 cash bail after his arraignment in 10th Circuit Court, Salem District Division, on reckless conduct, witness tampering and child endangerment charges.
Salem police located the girl, Pena and his alleged partner in a Salem motel room after receiving a tip from Boston police.
“We believe she may be a victim of sex trafficking,” Salem prosecutor Jason Grosky said during Pena’s arraignment.
The arrest of Pena and Steven Garcia, 28, both of Jamaica Plain, Mass., are part of an ongoing investigation by Boston police and the Department of Homeland Security. Garcia is facing similar charges, but he is free on bail.
The girl has been a runaway from the Greater Boston area since November, according to Grosky.
Police learned the girl was being advertised on Backpage.com as a 19-year-old named “Emily” under the female escort section, according to an affidavit by Salem police Detective Brendan Gleason. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has been instrumental in bringing attention to the issue of underage sex trafficking, and it was his work that led to the tip in this particular case.
A detective working undercover posed as a potential customer to meet up with the youth and exchanged several text messages with her prior to setting up a meeting at a hotel room, court records show.
Police and special agents with Homeland Security went to the hotel room and used a key to enter the room after knocking for roughly two minutes without a response, police said. One of the officers “could feel a draft run through the room and realized a window was open,” Grosky said.
Pena allegedly dropped a Hi-Point handgun from the fourth-floor window, causing it to break into pieces.
Before being taken out of the hotel room, police said Pena told the girl not to tell police anything.
The girl, who identified Pena as her boyfriend, told police she saw five to six clients per day, according to police.
“She told us Pena did not have a job so all of his money comes from her,” Gleason said in the affidavit.
Pena, who was not represented by a lawyer, denied knowing the girl was underage during his appearance via video from the Rockingham County jail.
“I can’t afford $150,000, your honor,” he said. “I had no idea that the girl was that young.”
Judge Robert Stephen agreed to Grosky’s request for cash-only bail and a source-of-funds hearing requiring Pena to show any bail money is coming from a legitimate source.